The first place Indians look to stay in first place as they go down south to play the Houston Astros. With a sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, the Tribe managed to maintain a half game lead over the White Sox. It's been a decade since the Indians have played the Astros due to the uneven numbers in the National League Central, but the two teams will be playing each other much more often starting next season as the Astros will be moving the the AL West. Currently the Astros sit at second to last in the NL Central and are the fourth worst team in the Major Leagues. If the Indians can get past the Astros secret weapon (two left handed starters the Indians have never faced) they should be able to win this series and maintain their lead in the AL Central.
Injury Updates: Travis Hafner is hitting and running (pretty much the only things he needs to be able to do) and could possibly return for the series in Baltimore at the end of the month. Grady Sizemore, Rafael Perez and Carlos Carrasco all made significant strides in their rehab work over the past week and remain on schedule. Sizemore and Perez should be back sometime in July and Carrasco could possibly return in late September from Tommy John surgery (more likely he will wait until next Spring Training, but it is good to hear he is throwing again.)
Both starting pitchers seem to be almost equivalent this season with identical win-loss records and ERAs that are close as well, but there is one difference. Ubaldo's last three starts have been some of his best work on the season (he lowered his ERA 0.79 points over the three starts) while Harrell has had the exact opposite reality. Over his last four starts, Lucas has increased his ERA from 3.72 to it's current 5.07 as he threw his three worst starts of the season within four games. Two of these starts came against American League powerhouses, Texas and Chicago during interleague play. With the Indians bats heating up over the last series they look to continue their success against the struggling right hander.
June 23nd, 4:05 PM EDT: Jeanmar Gomez, RHP, 4-6, 4.95 ERA vs Dallas Kuechel, LHP, 0-0, 1.80 ERA
If there is one pitcher in danger of losing his spot in the rotation it is Gomez. With so many starters banging on the door down in AAA (Zach McAllister, recent pick-up Chris Schwinden and even recent call-up Scott Barnes are all options), Jeanmar will have to really pick up his game against one of the worst offenses in the Majors. Even though he was hurt by errors last game, he still gave up 4 earned runs (8 total) and has given up 22 runs in his last 5 starts for an ERA of 7.92 in 25 innings. During this span he only struck out 9 batters as well. While he was lights out at the beginning of the season, a player with options often has to deal with a lot of "what have you done for me lately."
Kuechel pitched well in his MLB debut against interleague rival Texas. He threw an impressive 5 innings, only allowing a single run and 4 hits. If there was a weakness to his game, he walked 4 batters and only struck out two. This could be a positive sign for the Tribe as they generally excel against pitchers with control issues. If they can get past the point that he is a left hander and be patient, they should be able to compete in this game.
The Indians could possibly strike out more than 10 times in this game and still win. While James Anthony is a left hander that averages a strikeout an inning, he also allows more than a hit per inning (WHIP of 1.54). The Indians do have a few hitters that can play well against lefties (Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley and a few others) and it should be enough to carry the team if Lowe pitches well. The Indians did just mount a comeback against flame-throwing, left-handed closer Aroldis Chapman. A big part of that game was Shin-Soo Choo, who has increased his batting average against lefties by 54 points since June 4th.